Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Volunteers needed for very small research project into learning and using maths

This is a call for volunteers to take part in my tiny research project into how adults use and learn maths.

I've mentioned a couple of times that I'm doing a part-time BA Education course. G dragged me into this when I was made redundant as a way of getting back in touch with what is going on in adult and further education after being in a fairly specialised niche for more than 15 years.

It is interesting and enjoyable, but hard work!

Anyway, one of the modules is about numeracy, that is, how people use maths in their work and in their lives generally. We're now starting to work towards the assignment and for that I need a few victims volunteers to help me with my project.

What's involved?

Though most of the class will be doing face-to-face interviews, I plan to conduct my research via the Net. As all of you out there are happy communicating via LJ, email and chat/IM, I felt this would be the easiest way to manage the project, especially as it would allow me to perhaps use people from different countries, which might throw up some interesting differences. Or not, but that would be interesting too.

There would be several stages to the process, none of them too onerous, I hope.

Step 1: To complete a simple questionnaire about your background with regard to maths. (By email)

Step 2: In order to determine your current level of maths skills, I will ask you to look at some maths exam papers and decide which questions you could do easily, which you could do with help and which you couldn't do at all. Note: You are not required to actually do the exam paper, just to send back a summary saying, in effect, "I could do questions 1,2,3,5 & 7, no problem. Not too sure about questions 4, 6 & 8, but perhaps if I had a few hints? Not a clue about questions 9-12. (By email)

Step 3: I will give you a few maths problems to solve that are at the limit of what you can comfortably do and ask you to talk me through your thought processes as you tackle them. Again, this is not a test and it doesn't matter whether you get the answer right or not, what we're trying to find out is how people approach problems and where they get stuck.

This part has to be done in real time, so we would need to set up a chat/IM session so we can communicate as you tackle the problem. My plan is to use Google documents for displaying the maths problems and using Google Talk for communication. There is therefore no need to install any software that you don't already use. Skype would be another possibility if you feel happier talking through the problem rather than typing. Either way, I would need to log or record the session for analysis.

As I've not done this before and all G's research into this topic has been done via face-to-face interview, there might be a bit of trial and error involved here to work out suitable communication methods, especially with the first volunteer.

The online interview would be 30-45 minutes long, though I don't see why it couldn't be done as two shorter sessions if that would work better.

And that's it!

How many people do I need?

I need 3 people, though if more of you would like to take part, I could probably cope with 5-6 max. All the interviews have to be transcribed and analysed and this is only a small assignment, not a major research project.

What level of maths are you looking for?

Not too high, please! If you use a lot of maths in your job (eg you're a computer programmer or engineer) and/or you have a maths degree, then sadly you are probably too good at maths for my purposes. I'm looking for people with a level of maths similar to myself (did A-level many years ago and now forgotten most of it) or lower. In fact people who lack confidence in maths and feel they really ought to know more would be ideal subjects. (See below re learning plan.)

What do I get out of this?

Firstly, a warm glow of satisfaction at helping me!

Secondly, you will be helping, albeit in a small way, to improve maths teaching. My husband, G, is very interested in the teaching of maths. He has already given papers at international academic conferences on the subject and it will be the subject of his second PhD. Maths is often taught very badly -- as I'm sure some of you may be aware -- but without research into how people tackle maths problems and finding out exactly where they get stuck, it's impossible to devise better teaching strategies. The projects we BA Education students are doing are likely to feed into G's research.

Thirdly, as part of the assignment, I have to devise a learning plan for my subjects. So if you are interested in knowing how to improve your maths, then this could be helpful. On the other hand, that part is optional (for you, not me!). There is, of course, no obligation for you to learn any more maths unless you want to.

If you're interested in volunteering, please say so in a comment to this post.

Thank you.

ETA: I do now have three volunteers, which is sufficient for my needs, but if you're interested in taking part, please feel free to add a comment. Depending on how time consuming the process ends up being, it may be possible to use more people. Also, G is interested in bilingual people because the PhD he's planning on doing next will be looking at whether being bilingual helps or hinders the acquisition of maths skill.
Tags: ba education, maths, maths project
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